This short story was published in the Sunday Express on 19th August 2012...
I swayed down the carriage carrying a cup of tea and balancing an urn on my hip as the train pulled out of Exeter. I’d never dreamt that my first trip to the UK would be to bring a colleague’s ashes home, but somehow I found myself doing just that with the remains of Professor Agatha Roscarrow. Reaching my seat, I saw the one opposite was now occupied by a well-built man. Pushing the urn behind me, I tried to sit and to wedge it out of sight. It wouldn’t fit. I glanced up at the man and the table between us.
‘Going on holiday?’ he asked then his gaze fell on the urn now on my lap as I sank into the seat.
‘Sort of. You?’
‘No.’ He shook his head.
I put Aggie’s ashes on the table between us.
‘Husband?’ He pointed at the urn. I liked the sound of his voice. It held traces of Aggie’s accent.
‘No, a friend.’
‘Yes.’ I thought about her in the hospice when she’d told me it was time for me to explore. She’d held my hand and said life could be too short and not to make the mistakes that she had.
‘Travel with your friend often?’ he asked.
I spluttered while sipping my tea. ‘No, first and last time. She’d left little to chance on her return home. She’d been adamant in her instructions including which train to take, where to stay, and so on.’ I still wasn’t sure why she’d chosen me of all her friends. She was always giving me advice. “Go out and live a little” she said. “You’re young.” I think this was her way of pushing me.
‘Fair enough. Where’s home?’
‘That’s where I’m from.’
I noticed his eyes danced just a bit. He was dressed in a dark suit but his tie was bright red. Aggie would like him. I touched the urn. At least he didn’t seem offended by it.
‘A blessing?’ he asked.
I scanned his face but it gave nothing away.
‘Unexpected and much too soon.’ I smiled thinking of her. ‘She was so full of life and had so much to give. Her illness and death took us by surprise.’
‘Shame.’ He frowned. ‘Are you planning to do anything else while you’re in Cornwall?’
‘Gardens I think.’ I tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear wishing I’d taken a bit more care with my appearance this morning. I could hear Aggie’s I told you so.
‘Excellent time of year, they’re at their best.’
I nodded. ‘Any suggestions?’
‘Plenty from the unusual like the Eden Project, to the lost, to the specialist.’
‘You sound like you know a lot about them.’ I noted the tell-tale callouses on his hands.
‘A passion when time permits.’
‘I hated leaving my garden at this time of year. So much to do before the season really begins.’ I wanted to pinch myself, a man who likes gardening. I’d never met one under the age of seventy before. Result. Maybe Aggie had been correct and I did need to get out more.
The conductor came through the carriage interrupting my thoughts. I took more time to study the man. His brown hair was a touch unruly falling over the collar of his jacket. He had a pair of glasses tucked into his pocket. I wondered if he was near or far sighted.
‘Tickets from Plymouth.’
I watched the man produce his. He was my age I’d guess. He caught me studying him and I blushed.
He smiled then leaned forward. ‘There’s a lovely garden not far from Penzance that might interest you.’
‘Is it easy to reach?’ I wrinkled my nose. ‘I don’t relish the idea of driving.’
‘No sense of adventure?’
‘Not when driving on the wrong side of the road.’ The train was now running alongside the water and moored boats rocked on the changing tide.
‘May be I could show it to you?’ The blue of his shirt set off his brown eyes and his smile transformed his serious face. Something about him was almost familiar.
‘That,’ I swallowed. ‘Would be very kind.’ Aggie would be impressed. Here I was accepting an invitation from a stranger. The train braked sharply and Aggie slid onto his lap.
‘So sorry.’ I went to reach for the urn, mortified that the ashes had landed on him. I almost didn’t want to look up but I did. His eyes were closed for a moment.
‘Heavier than you’d think.’ He placed Aggie solemnly on the table between us. ‘Hope you don’t mind me asking? But what are you going to do with them?’
‘I’m to scatter them from the harbour wall in Mousehole as the tide goes out tomorrow at sunrise.’
‘That’s a very specific request.’
‘Yes, everything about this trip has been that way. Aggie had sorted everything before she died almost as if she’d known the day and the hour.’ I paused. ‘She even told me what to wear.’
‘Remarkable.’ He glanced at the urn again. ‘Aggie? May I ask, Aggie who?’
He shook his head. ‘Somehow I thought you were going to say that.’
‘Really?’ I cocked my head to one side. ‘You knew Aggie?’
He nodded then touched the urn. ‘Yes, but we hadn’t spoken in a very long time.’ His words faded away as he turned to the window.
‘Why?’ I gave in to the urge to touch him and laid my hand on his briefly.
‘We argued.’ He sighed. ‘She didn’t want me to find my father.’
I frowned. ‘Why would that matter to Aggie?’
‘Agatha Roscarrow was my mother.'
I sat back in surprise.
‘She sent me an email before she died,' he said. 'As you mentioned she left nothing to chance. She told me what train to be on, what seat. Everything.'
‘She wanted us to meet,' I said, astonished. 'I wonder why.'
'I think I know,' he said. 'Don't you?'
copyright Liz Fenwick 2012